Thanks to rugged notebook computers and Wi-Fi, the small Colorado mountain town of Salida is a little safer than it used to be.
Now that officers in the Salida Police Department are using rugged notebooks to fill out paperwork in the field and wirelessly sending information to headquarters without having to go there, the police are rarely out of sight.
That's important because the department has had its staff cut by 20% in last two years, said Salida police chief Mark Mathies. In addition, the 17 officers that remained once spent up to 60% of their time at headquarters, typing police reports into a database.
With $100,000 the department received following a drug seizure, it began to shop for a communications system that would not only ease its paperwork load, but also augment its in-car radio system. It considered a system that relies on a cellular network, but because the community is high in the Rocky Mountains, coverage is poor.
The department also preferred to own its infrastructure to avoid ongoing costs that could cause it to exceed its budget. While Wi-Fi was appealing, Mathies said that some systems were too complex because they required the installation and management of numerous access points.
The department settled on a Wi-Fi system from Vivato Inc., a San Francisco-based wireless vendor. Unlike its competitors' systems, Vivato demonstrated that it could cover this six-square-mile town using a 802.11b switch and multiple antennae in a single spot. That has helped the department keep costs low and IT involvement to a minimum.
Vivato's 2.4 GHz Outdoor Wi-Fi Switch extends the reach of Wi-Fi (a normal access point has a radius of about 300 feet) by focusing the radio signal like the beam of a flashlight said Ken Seto, Vivato's director of marketing.
The system focuses the beam in a 100-degree area and can cover up to 4 million square feet at once, Seto said. The company also uses phase array antennae that help it hear distant weaker signals. By locating its switch on a mountaintop at the edge of town, Salida police can use the Wi-Fi network to send data directly to police headquarters from anywhere in the community.
Another problem the system solves is eavesdropping. Many people in the community use radio scanners to pick up police radio communications, sometimes overhearing information about sensitive police investigations, Mathies said. Since a scanner can't pick up Wi-Fi signals, officers can use the new system to communicate without worrying about leaking information.
While Wi-Fi was not developed for outdoor use, there is no reason the technology can't be deployed outside, said Sarah Kim, an analyst with the Cambridge, Mass.-based Yankee Group research firm. There are many emerging outdoor markets for Wi-Fi, such as RV parks, shipping ports, universities, sports arenas and rail stations.
Vivato's approach has the benefit of only requiring cabling to a single access point, which reduces cost. Also, because only a single switch is involved, management is less complicated, she said.
Vivato is one of a number of wireless LAN switch and gateway vendors searching for the right markets, Kim said. The industry landscape is changing rapidly, and vendors are experimenting with various technology approaches to see what works.
With this product, Vivato has carved out a niche unlike other vendors, she said, and the market may be big enough to keep Vivato afloat.
Vivato's system is also relatively cost effective. An average deployment is about $10,000. That figure is significantly more expensive than the average access point, which runs up to $1,000 a piece. However, deployment and management costs are less, and the system can cover the same area as a system using many access points.
Mathies said that for about $80,000, Salida was able to purchase and implement Vivato's system, provide officers with Wi-Fi-enabled laptops and install special car-top antennae.
Additionally, the department has well exceeded its goal: Officers are now spending more than 80% of their shifts on patrol, keeping the citizens of Salida safe.
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